Preview: Plymouth Argyle v MK Dons

Some three to four thousand Cornish Pilgrims are set to cross the Tamar tomorrow to join a capacity crowd for the last day of Plymouth Argyle’s regular season, writes Colin Bradbury.

MK Dons are the visitors to Home Park, and the prize for both teams – a shot at promotion to the Championship – couldn’t be much bigger. The top of the League One table is ridiculously tight, with just nine points separating top club Wigan Athletic from seventh-placed Wycombe Wanderers.

Wigan and Rotherham occupy the two automatic promotion slots, with MK Dons. Sheffield Wednesday, Sunderland and Argyle in the third to sixth place play-off positions respectively. In most previous seasons, Argyle’s current haul of 80 points would have been more than enough to guarantee the vital top-six finish, but not so in 2022.

The mathematical permutations are enough to make the head spin, but in simple (ish) terms, Argyle will still be in the play-off places after the final whistle tomorrow if:

  • They win and either Sheffield Wednesday or Sunderland fail to win.
  • They win and Wycombe lose, draw or win by fewer than three goals.
  • They draw and Sunderland lose or Wycombe fail to win. 

Basically, a win for Argyle would almost guarantee a play-off slot. Any other outcome and it would all be very much up in the air.

Looking at the omens for tomorrow’s fixture, there’s good news and bad news. On the positive side, it’s a home match and Argyle have averaged 2.1 points per game in Plymouth so far this season compared to 1.5 points per game on the road. And recent home form has been stellar, with the Greens keeping clean sheets in the last seven games at Home Park, not conceding since 26th February. There’s a reason that young ‘keeper Mike Cooper, with the most shut-outs in the division, has just been named in the 2012/22 Sky Bet League One team of the season.

The bad news is that tomorrow’s opponents, MK Dons, have the second best away record in the division (averaging 1.9 points per game). They also very much have something to play for, and automatic promotion awaits if they beat Argyle tomorrow and Rotherham – one point ahead currently – fail to win (a draw wouldn’t be enough given Rotherham’s superior goal difference).

In contrast, two of the three other teams whose results could affect Argyle – Sheffield Wednesday (at home to Portsmouth) and Wycombe (away to Burton Albion) face opponents with nothing to play for. The exception is Sunderland, who travel to a Morecambe side that would be relegated should they lose and the two teams below them win.  The fact that former Argyle boss Derek Adams now manages Morecambe is yet another plot point to throw into the mix.

But Argyle’s manager, Steven Schumacher, isn’t interested in permutations and scenarios. He’s going for the win and says simply, “We’ve performed well before, in big games, there’s no reason why we can’t go and do it again.”

Team news for the Greens is mixed. On the positive side of the ledger, captain Joe Edwards could be available after a three-match absence with an ankle problem. His leadership and quiet authority would be vital in the dressing room as well as on the pitch.  The flip-side is the absence of influential midfielder Panutche Camara, whose energy and commitment since his arrival at Home Park in summer 2020 has established him as a firm fans’ favourite. The Guinea Bissau international was taken off with a hamstring issue against Sunderland on Easter Monday and subsequent scans have ruled him out of participation tomorrow.

It’s an early kick-off (12.30pm) and with a sell-out 16,000 crowd, if you don’t have a ticket yet, forget it. However, the game is live on Sky Sports, guaranteeing the Pilgrims a national audience. Victory tomorrow would extend the season into two semi-final play offs and, if progress was secured there, a trip to the final at Wembley on May 21st. ‘All to play for’ indeed.

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